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Cultural geographers focus on differences among Hutterites

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Although authored by two cultural geographers, this book goes far beyond that discipline. More than one-third consists of the regulations, translated from German, the Schmideleut Hutterite elders have written down over time.

More useful to the general reader is the book's listing of all of North America's current Hutterite colonies, given in alphabetical order by group (Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut and Lehrerleut) and by province and state. It adds up to 397 colonies, or about 40,000 individuals.

Authors Yossi Katz and John Lehr point out, however, that birth rates among Hutterites have significantly decreased, to the extent that defections from the colonies now cancel out natural increase among the Schmiedeleut.

The authors, the former an Israeli, the latter a University of Winnipeg professor, claim that previous studies on the Hutterites regarded these people "as a monolithic body." They, by contrast, also point out the differences that exist between the three leut groups.

They argue that, since the Schmiedeleut have recently split up, we can now speak of four groups of Hutterites. What they call "Schmiedeleut -- Group One" includes those less than half of the Schmiedeleut who continue to follow their innovative church leader, Rev. Jacob Kleinsasser.

The more conservative colonies that refused to follow Kleinsasser are then termed "Schmiedeleut -- Group Two."

In their explanation of this schism within the Schmiedeleut, Katz and Lehr could have paid more attention to the disruptive role of the innovative Arnoldleut, who originated as Christian peaceniks in Europe following the First World War and later converted to the Hutterite way.

With Hutterite help, these Arnoldleut ended up settling communally in Woodcrest, N.Y. Consultation of the Schmiedeleut Family Record would have revealed to the authors, by the non-Hutterite surnames of some of the members of Kleinsasser's Crystal Springs Colony, the presence of Arnoldleut in that colony.

A few factual errors crop up in the book. Perhaps the most egregious of these, at least for geographers, is that they place Innsbruck in "south Tyrol." South Tyrol, where Jacob Hutter was born, has (as Alto Adige) been part of Italy since the First World War. Hutter did die in Innsbruck, but not "in prison." He was burned at the stake there in 1536.

Another factual error is the authors' description of Hutterisch as a form of Low German. Hutterisch, derived from Carinthia and Tyrol, is a High German dialect, that is, a variety of German speech spoken in the southern or higher upland parts of the German-speaking realm -- as are the dialects of Bavaria and German Switzerland.

Low German or Plattdeutsch, one example of which is the speech of Manitoba's Mennonites, refers to the dialects of northern, lowland Germany.

Recurrent errors in German spelling abound. To cite just one example: The plural for the German word Brief (letter) is Briefe, not Briefen. Sequencing of topics could be better in places, as when the authors interject their description of Hutterite preacher ordination between that of Hutterite marriage customs and their stand on fornication and masturbation.

The book's bibliography includes almost 70 titles, a few in German. Yet some very relevant publications are missing. Examples are: Bernd G. Laengin's Die Hutterer, written in Winnipeg in 1986, and Karl Peter's two recent publications on Hutterite demography.

Despite such errors and omissions, this book is a good read. The five maps and 32 colour photographs greatly enhance the authors' description of this interesting ethno-religious group.

Winnipegger Alvin Kienetz, who has a doctorate in geography, taught in Hutterite schools with Distance Education Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 J8

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